In "The Road" what is this fire, and why is it so crucial that they not let it die?  As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the...

In "The Road" what is this fire, and why is it so crucial that they not let it die?


As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real, the father says, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" (page 234)


Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Road is so full of heartbreaking images, the father and son have nothing but each other and the few shared terms that help the son understand the dystopian nightmare in which they live.  For example, the father refers to them as the good guys, as opposed to most of the other people on the road who are bad guys.  He also tries to keep his memories of the past to himself fearing that his son would not understand the stories because he has no point of reference, but he does bring him to his childhood home and tell him some details about life before the devastation changed everything.

The fire that he speaks of is in the soul.  Life has been reduced to a struggle for survival.  This book is so striking in its description of the father and son's journey that it chills you to think, how do they have the strength to go on, why do they go on?  The father debates whether or not he should kill his son and himself, and even teaches the boy to kill himself in the event he is captured by the bad guys.  The element of cannibalism in this book strips away every ounce of civilization that we know of today.

The boy is the man's legacy, he is the reason that he lives, that he struggles for survival.  He imparts his legacy to the boy as he is dying because the father hopes that the spark within humanity, if it survives the current age, can light again and restore the social order, structure and meaning that life once had.

The father inspires the boy to continue to hope to keep the fire alive, for if all that is left are bad guys, then the human race is truly doomed to final extinction by its own hand which holds a knife and fork and is looking for a hot meal.

Symbolically, of course, when man discovered fire, he was a higher level thinker in prehistoric times, therefore keeping the fire burning within the soul, is the only thing that separates the species that currently occupies the earth, the thinkers vs the hunters.


mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, the fire represents goodness, hope, humanity, and the will to survive without degenerating into what other people around them have become.  "We carry the fire," symbolizes the small flame of decency and civilization that has otherwise been wiped off of the face of the earth.  Someone has to carry that fire, that memory of what life was before, and all of the good things that life contained, and of all of the reasons for mankind to survive.  The world that the narrator and his son live in is a dark, dreary world filled with violent and barbaric people; the sun itself and any warmth--literally and figuratively--are in hiding.  The fact that McCarthy had the narrator and his son carry fire is significant, because literal fire, to them, represents light, warmth, hope, and survival.  Carrying the figurative fire within themselves also represents the fact that they carry the love, humanity, hope, light and reasons for mankind to survive within their hearts and memories.  Despite the circumstances that they were in, and the constant desire to just give in, they didn't.  They survived.  They searched.  They remained decent, showing love to each other.  This, at its core, is what is going to help the boy build up a new and good civilization; this goodness is the fire that he carries, that will bring it to pass.

I hope that those thoughts help; it's an interesting question that brings a lot of good discussion to the table.  Good luck!